Jakarta Butuh Revolusi Budaya!

Jakarta’s forgotten celebration

Posted on: July 6, 2009

Did you know that last June 22 was the birthday of our beloved city Jakarta? Some of you were probably aware of that fact, but I’m sure most of us didn’t care at all; that is exactly what happened in my office, everything went just like any other day. No one mentioned the fact that Jakarta was having its 482nd birthday.

Compared to our country Indonesia, Jakarta turns out to be so much older. But it is too bad that despite the fact that our capital is so old, the condition doesn’t show the kind of maturity that a city as old as Jakarta should have. Perhaps that is why we Jakartans don’t really care whether or not it’s a birthday. Because it’s always the same kind of Jakarta we all have: bad traffic, bad public transportation, pollution, flood, and poverty.

With all those problems, we don’t feel like celebrating it. I even forgot that last Monday was Jakarta’s birthday until I heard, accidentally, the news on the radio reporting that our local government had been conducting cultural events in several areas.

Our ignorance of this special occasion definitely reflects our attitude towards this city of ours. Admit it, most of us don’t like it here. Admit it, most of us always curse at this city every single day and always think that if not for the money we would have left this city so long time ago.

Am I being too much on this? I don’t think so. I was driving my car a few days ago from my office to a friend’s house in Blok M when suddenly a metromini cut me off. This bus came from nowhere and stubbornly stopped right in front of me. I was going to curse but decided not to when I saw the people’s faces on the bus. I felt sorry for them.

They all looked sad. None of them were crying, but I could tell they were all unhappy. Their bodies were squeezed against each other and they were all sweating. Suddenly I felt guilty for being inside my comfortable car. I felt guilty for having my air conditioner and radio on. I looked at those people and I realized that not all people in this great city of ours can enjoy Jakarta’s luxurious malls and nightclubs.

The funny part was the fact that the condition of the bus was no better than the people’s condition inside. Just like any other Jakarta’s public transportation system, this bus in front of me looked like the ugliest bus in the whole world. At that very moment, I was so ashamed of being an Indonesian. I couldn’t imagine what I would have said if there had been a foreigner sitting next to me; trying to mess his or her concentration from this very embarrassing sight, I would probably have said, “By the way, have you tried our busway?”

It seems to me that Jakarta is run to please the rich. Look at our big malls. Our malls are so luxurious that even my American friend, Bill, admitted that our malls are better than the ones in the United States. While walking inside a famous mall in Central Jakarta, he pointed at those branded items being displayed at various outles, and said, “Isn’t it amazing, there are actually many people in this city who buy all those unreasonably-priced products?”

But it is interesting to know that even the rich are not actually happy living in Jakarta. If you don’t trust me, ask them to describe Jakarta in one word. I bet most of them will say macet. In other cities, people probably have positive words like: beautiful, traditional, or peaceful. And that is why they always go somewhere far every time they have a chance. We shouldn’t be surprised to know that Jakarta’s rich people are among the main tourist sources for cities like Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Bangkok; and not the other way around.

So, what now? Did 482nd birthday mean anything? It still did and should mean something.

I think it is time for all of us to look at Jakarta differently. It is time for us to treat Jakarta wisely and start doing small but real actions to this city. I remember I didn’t really like Jakarta in the past. But living in the United States for 2 years made me realize that Jakarta was not as bad as I had thought before. It was the first time when I realized that Jakarta had so many great things I couldn’t find in America. And one thing for sure, I missed those things so badly.

So when I came back, I decided I would treat Jakarta differently. I made a vow that I would start doing the things that I never had done before. It was not easy, but I managed to survive. First, for the very first time in my life I went to Monas. Then, I went to other cultural and historic attractions. I began to find out that Jakarta is more than just about malls and cafes. Second, I started trying all kinds of food that this city offers. I found out food in Jakarta is not mainly about nasi uduk or soto betawi. You will be surprised to know that the choices are unlimited. Third, I now use the traffic as a perfect therapy on patience.

At the end, we can always have thousands of excuses not to like Jakarta and all its elements. But, we all should know that there is a second choice to like this city, although it might only be just a little bit more; and to do it, it will need some efforts.


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